By Lynn Strough
Historic Bath, England was only a short bus ride away from my house sit in Corsham, so I took a day after my house hosts returned to explore. The main attraction, ancient Roman baths, are accessible via self-tour with an informative audio guide, and definitely worth a visit.
Wandering through the Roman Temple, Bath House and Sacred Spring — surrounded by the smell of sulphur — hot water bubbled up in green pools, as it did in ancient times, from rain falling on nearby hills. It filters down through layers of limestone to be heated by geothermal energy, then pressure pushes it to the surface.
The first shrine on the site was Celtic, dedicated to the goddess Sulis (Minerva to the Romans), and signs tell of the later history of the Roman occupation of Britain. Glass cases house artifacts that were thrown into the pools as offerings to the Goddess, including colorful gemstones and over 12,000 coins.
Also thrown into the pools were curse tablets — messages written to the Goddess on pewter or lead, some related to thefts of clothing while the owner was occupied in the baths. The temple pediment and Gorgon’s head, originally supported by four large columns, now hang on a wall, part of this impressive collection of antiquities, including scores of sculptures, mosaics and friezes.
Uphill from the Baths, the Royal Crescent sweeps the scene in a great curve of Georgian architecture. Built in the 1700s, the golden facade connects thirty terraced houses. Some are still townhouses, some are split into flats, part forms a museum and in the center is the elegant Royal Crescent Hotel.
If you’re a Jane Austen fan, you can check out a museum dedicated to her and her work — she lived in Bath from her father’s retirement in 1801 until his death five years later. Bath is mentioned in all of her novels. You can even dress up in costume for a virtual trip back in time.
Bath is a lovely town in and of itself, just to wander around. Stone streets lead to bookstores, cafes, and galleries and scenic spots on the river to linger.
Also near Corsham is the village of Lacock, another step back in time. Lacock Abbey was a home for nuns, until somebody bought it for private use. The cloisters remain untouched, a square of vaulted hallways surrounding a grassy courtyard, with several rooms off to the sides where scenes from Harry Potter were filmed. You can stand where Severus Snape held his potions classes.
Nuns were privileged at the time as they were literate and expected to study the Bible along with other religious texts. Not many people in medieval times could read, and books were very expensive as they were all handwritten. One book could be as costly as a farm.
Winding my way upstairs, I toured elaborately decorated rooms full of fancy furnishings, where the family lived after the nuns were forced to leave. Henry Talbot, the private owner, was one of the fathers of modern photography, along with Louis Daguerre.
Out back stands the old brewery, where beer was brewed because it was safer to drink than water.
The village itself is a medieval town, full of peaked-roof houses with criss-crossing beams and several small shops, and I was pulled — not unwillingly — into the chocolatier by the scent of rich, sweet cocoa. I’ve avoided much shopping on my travels, but the dark-chocolate butter honeycomb got me.
Fall was in the air, crisp and cool, calling colors to flame the trees. Both Bath and Lacock are worth a look, if you’re ever in merry old England.
Lynn is a 50+ free spirit whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.
“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”
Reprinted with permission